2007 FilmMakers International Screenwriting Awards - Interview - Harvey Papush

Filmmakers International Screenwriting Awards

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Harvey Papush
14th Place Winner
Harvey Papush
of Westfield, NJ

The fact that he was born to dysfunctional, unmotivated, lower-middle class parents in no way inhibited him from emulating them. He wasted 8 years of
his life as a NYC hospital social worker before realizing that making a decent income was more important than an easy, low-pressure job getting
alcoholics and the elderly out of the hospital in order to make room for new patients for the inexperienced interns to try their "win some/lose
some" approach to medicine on. He took a 6-month course in paralegal studies, joined a small but thriving insurance defense law firm as a junior
paralegal and, 20 years later, have an easy, low-pressure job as head of that department, with 18 paralegals subject to his will. Along the way he
accumulated an Asian-Muslim wife, proving that Jews and Muslims can co-exist, or maybe not, and a dysfunctional, unmotivated, upper-middle class teenage son. Truly, the Circle of Life.

As to writing, he has essentially always written, and had an apparent knack for it, whether it was term papers, college newspaper articles, short stories, legal research memos, letters to editors or quasi-amusing emails, though never seriously and certainly never with fame and/or fortune in mind. But he finally decided to give screenwriting a genuine try after years of seeing schlocky, ill-conceived movies and feeling that he could write far better stories and dialogue. This, plus several plotlines that assembled themselves in his mind over numerous insomnia-plagued nights, and the phenomenon which, as he later learned, is experienced by many writers, of my imaginary characters voicing their own dialogue independently of his efforts, gave him the bug. He read a dozen books on screenwriting, bought the software and began writing. Three years later, He has completed two screwball comedies, a serious, thinking-man version of the dystopian-style action adventure immortalized by the "Mad Max" series ("Dark Age"), and his present contender in the FilmMakers Screenwriting Awards finals, "Cat's Eyes", a complex psycho-sexual ghost


I knew I wanted to be a screenwriter........

all my adult life but never took it seriously until three years ago when, motivated by the number of poorly-written and ill-conceived films that made it to the screen, by a conviction that I could write much better stories and dialogue than I was seeing, and by what I felt were intriguing ideas I had for several films, I finally decided to make an intense effort to get into the field.

I know I've succeeded........ 

simply by having completed and repeatedly revised two scripts that have placed well in a number of screenwriting contests and received essentially favorable reactions from several professional feedback providers.

Beyond this, even if I never earn significant money for my work, is the intense satisfaction of having created stories and characters that didn't exist before, and now do. I derive no small satisfaction from at least attempting to write something of an artistic nature for its own sake

My inspiration to write CAT'S EYES.......

is the direct result of occasional insomnia! Lying on my back in bed, a bit intimidated by the pitch black and utter silence (one's mortality invariably comes to mind under such conditions), feeling even more alert than during the day, my fantasies---heroic, adventurous, sexual and fearful---tended to arise, primarily for their personal entertainment value, and in order to keep filling the boring, sleepless hours still at hand, it's logical to consciously begin manipulating such fantasies into realistic linear stories, with a beginning, middle and end.




FilmMakers Magazine: What inspired you to write?

Harvey Papush: As I noted earlier, I was motivated by the number of poorly-written and ill-conceived films that made it to the screen, by a conviction that I could write much better stories and dialogue than I was seeing, and by what I felt were intriguing ideas I had for several films.

FilmMakers Magazine: What did you do to prepare yourself to write your first script?

Harvey Papush:I read a dozen books on screenwriting, read numerous scripts downloaded from the internet, bought the necessary software, and started writing.

FilmMakers Magazine: Is this your first script and how long did it take you to complete?

Harvey Papush: "Cat's Eyes" is my fourth and most recent script. I completed the first draft 1˝ years ago, and the most recent polish a few weeks ago. But it took me about 15 months to get it to its present, essentially "final" version.

FilmMakers Magazine: Do you have a set routine, place and time management for writing?

Harvey Papush:
No, I write in various places (home, office or during my commute to and from work), whenever I can combine available time with inspiration and motivation. I tend to work more intensively when I'm dealing with a full draft or serious rewrite. In between such, I'll often work only sporadically.

FilmMakers Magazine: Do you believe screenplay contests are important for aspiring screenwriters and why?

Harvey Papush:
If you limit yourself to major or other reputable contests, such as Filmmakers International, and do well in them, you know that your efforts are being rewarded and that you have some degree of writing talent. It also enables you to compile a resumé of successful contest placements for purposes of promoting and marketing your script.

FilmMakers Magazine: What influenced you to enter the FilmMakers International Screenwriting Awards?

Harvey Papush:
Because there are so many contests and the time, effort and cost required to enter them can add up, I use Moviebytes.com to screen out the wheat from the chaff. Prior contestants' report cards and commentary are extremely helpful in this regard, as is a review of the contests' websites. Filmmakers International was one of the more favored contests.

FilmMakers Magazine: What script would you urge aspiring writers to read and why?

Harvey Papush:
That's really a matter of personal taste---you should simply try to read the scripts of films whose stories, dialogue and style you truly enjoyed and admired in order to see what they looked like on paper as compared to the screen version. Invariably, the script is better, more cohesive and more complete than the film (sometimes substantially so!) because of all the cuts and revisions that occur during the transition to the screen.

In terms of scripts I wanted to read, I sought out nearly anything I could get my hands on by Charlie Kaufman and the Coen Brothers because of their often unique, innovative stories and unusual, quirky, even slightly bizarre styles. I would heartily recommend "Barton Fink", "The Man Who Wasn't There", "Being John Malkovitch", "Fargo", "Adadptation" and "Blood Simple", for starters.

FilmMakers Magazine: Beside screenwriting what are you passionate about and why?

Harvey Papush: Film Noir, Peter Lorre in his prime, good wine and exotic women; the latter continuously, since the age of six. Fortunately, my wife fits into that category and is one of the most alluring women her age I know, so I'm covered in real time, though, like Jimmy Carter, I am unfaithful in my mind, typically two or three times a day.

Beyond that, it's straight downhill: I follow politics and the stock market fairly closely, and am always on the lookout for new, good, yet reasonably-priced restaurants.

FilmMakers Magazine: Who is your favorite Screenwriter and Why?

Harvey Papush: As noted earlier, Charlie Kaufman and the Coen Brothers because of their often unique, innovative stories and unusual, quirky, even slightly bizarre styles. Although they say every conceivable plot has already been made in one film or another, and all new movies are merely the latest variants of same, I'd like someone to show me the prior equivalent of Kaufman's "Being John Malkovitch" and "Eternal Sunshine…", or the Coens' "Barton Fink" and "Adaptation".

FilmMakers Magazine: Name the director you would love to work with and why?

Harvey Papush: Any director who treats films as, above all, a serious art form and strives to be associated with intelligent, interesting, innovative and artistic films. That would include Scorsese, the Coens, and Davids Lynch and Cronenberg.

FilmMakers Magazine: Name the actor you would love to work with and why?

Harvey Papush:
The same would apply as for directors: Actors who consider their craft to be a serious form of art and strive to limit their work to intelligent, interesting and artistic films. This would include Jeremy Irons, Kevin Spacey, Sean Penn, Johnny Depp (perhaps excluding his recent "pirate" movies), Halle Berry, Helen Mirren, Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino.

But specifically in terms of "Cat's Eyes", I'd like Christopher Lee or Anthony Hopkins as Gill, Kerry Washington as Athena and Paul Rudd as Goldring.

FilmMakers Magazine: Any tips and things learned along the way to pass on to others?

Harvey Papush:
Just to make use of both professional and casual feedback and give their commentary serious thought, and also to enter the better-known contests. If your work consistently places in the quarterfinals on up, you probably have a script worth focusing on, improving and promoting. Conversely, if it doesn't, figure out why not and either do an extensive rewrite or move on to something else.

FilmMakers Magazine: What's next for you?

Harvey Papush:
Based on feedback and contest results, I'm now convinced "Cat's Eyes" has both commercial potential and artistic merit. Ghost/horror stories are always in vogue and, given the number of simplistic or downright godawful slasher, vampire and zombie movies presently dominating this genre, I feel a complex, interesting, sexy, intelligent ghost story would stand out and be well-received. I think I'm ready to try marketing it.

FilmMakers Magazine: Where will you be five years from now?

Harvey Papush:
If I've also optioned or sold one or more scripts, that would be phenomenal, but if I haven't, at least I can feel I wrote a few good stories that my grandchildren can carry around on their portable USB drives. Being creative is very much its own reward.

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